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Health Resource Center at St. Alphonsus Offers Hope

Addressing chronic disease and mental health reduces emergency department visits and changes lives
December 14, 2015

With the help of two grants, one for $2 million from Catholic Health Initiatives and the other for $99,000 from the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization, the Health Resource Center at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center has reduced emergency department visits and hospitalizations while also helping people get their mental and physical health, and their lives, on track.

“Many patients come in with underlying needs beyond what their ER visit was intended to treat,” said Jaime Taylor, manager of the Health Resource Center and clinical resource management at Saint Alphonsus.

The grants have a different focus – helping patients with chronic diagnoses and those with mental health needs – but they often go hand-in-hand in an emergency department setting.

“That’s what America needs, to be treating (chronic health issues and mental health issues) both at the same time,” Taylor explained.

Patients with a chronic diagnosis such as COPD, diabetes, congestive heart failure or pneumonia who’ve been seen in the emergency department more than three times in a given year and who are uninsured or underinsured can participate in a free, voluntary 30-day program via the Health Resource Center. The goal of the program is to help patients obtain and maintain optimal health following the 30-day program. The program has already seen major success. For 183 patients, emergency visits went down from 515 to 329 from six months before contact with the Health Resource Center to six months after they participated in the Center’s program. Inpatients visits declined from 156 to 74

Since September 2014, more than 550 patients have been connected to resources such as mental health services, help with financial applications related to insurance, housing, and medication assistance. These same patients also received education on medications, diabetes, and nutrition, interpretive services, and help with finding a regular primary care physician. “We have made so many impacts,” Taylor said. “Sometimes it’s just about asking what the Health Resource Center can do to help out, or simply listening.”

One patient kept coming to Saint Alphonsus because of complications with Parkinson’s, and learned that his diabetes was out of control as well. He complained his wife didn’t know how to cook healthy food so the Center’s staff gave him some easy recipes that he could make on his own. The man left feeling empowered and hasn’t had to return to the emergency room since.

Under the grant from the Eastern Oregon CCO, a qualified mental health professional is available in the emergency room to screen patients for mild to moderate mental health care needs. Saint Alphonsus partners with Lifeways to staff the qualified mental health professional available to the emergency department, a partnership that has been vital to the success of the program.

“We’ve been able to increase screening and referrals for patients who would benefit from other resources.” Taylor said. “If we can get a patient help before they are in crisis mode, that is ideal. In some cases, we were able to prevent (worse) things from happening.” Colleen is among the patients whose life has been turned around. On the edge of profound hopelessness, she found herself at Saint Alphonsus where she was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes as well as learning that she’d had a stroke.

“So my ten o’clock appointment (at the Health Resource Center) started my new life,” Colleen reflected. “These people were nice. These people were caring. They were supportive. If I would have left that day without any results, if these people hadn’t been there that day, I would not be here today. There are people who are going to die tonight because they don’t have hope. That’s what this place (the Health Resource Center) brought me is hope. The only reason why I’m successful is they helped me get there.”

Among 82 patients who received mental health screening and referrals, emergency room visits dropped from 330 to 250 based on an analysis of visits from six months before the screening and six months after.

With its proven success, Saint Alphonsus is requesting another grant from the CCO to expand its work in the emergency department by having a qualified mental health professional stationed at the emergency department desk not just in the Health Resource Center.

“It’s such a new program,” Taylor noted. “We are still building and the changing the program to best help our community.”

She encouraged other hospitals to follow suit. “Get a qualified mental health professional in your emergency departments and urgent care centers. It just makes such a difference in people’s lives.”


Joanne can be reached at [email protected]